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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kansas: 10-Day Predictions

Taping an episode of This Week in Kansas last Thursday, our host Tim Brown asked us assembled commentators: what do we predict for November 4, only a week and a half away? Well, I hauled up my predictions from 10 days ago--but with one alteration. So here's my latest on the three big state-wide races here in Kansas, again going from, in my view, the least likely to flip to the most:

Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach vs. Republican-turned-Democrat Jean Schodorf. There's a serious lack of polling available for public consumption for this race; the most recent serious poll to include the race for Kansas Secretary of State showed Schodorf down by six points, which showed little change from what other occasional polls have suggested ever since the end of September. And the "debates" (more like opportunities for the candidates to stand and recite their talking points, but you know what I mean) which these two have held haven't helped Schodorf much: Kobach is a real political animal, a superb and utterly unhesitant communicator, confidently throwing out highly questionable claims about voter fraud and red-meat-for-the-base insinuations about Schodorf being soft on illegal immigration, all of which makes his opponent seem, it unfortunately must be said, old and unfocused and a little whinny by comparison. I remain deeply impressed by the ground game which Hispanic groups, African-American churches, and other social organizations in Kansas's major cities have put together, registering and informing and motivating voters against Kobach's policies, but I can't deny any longer that this race is looks increasingly unlikely to result in an upset.

Independent newcomer Greg Orman vs. incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts. Since I last wrote, various facts have become clear to me about this race. First, the number of Tea Party conservatives and others who backed Milton Wolf during the Republican primary, and were incensed at Roberts's lazy dismissal of his challenger, and as a result can't see themselves voting for Roberts in 10 days time, does not appear to be shrinking. Second, Orman's strategic choice to not directly engage the tremendous amounts of negative advertising being directed against him--at rates of, depending on how you count the money and television ads, anywhere from 4 to 1 to as much as 8 to 1--is paying off. Orman obviously couldn't really directly challenge many of these accusations without undermining his own determination not to be placed on the political map (which of course would only play directly into Roberts's hands), and as a result his public presentations have kept themselves focused on the distasteful dysfunction of Congress and the pragmatic appeal of a genuinely independent candidate. And there is evidence that's working for him, being able to hold his own despite an onslaught of Republican opposition. Roberts still obviously still has all the advantage of incumbency, of a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats and others by almost 2 to 1, and most of all of a narrative which puts the highly-unpopular-in-Kansas President Obama at the center, but I have to move this one up, with a greater chance of the incumbent losing than I'd long thought likely. It's definitely not "likely," but it strikes me as much more possible than it did previously.

(Incidentally, my predictions for the Senate overall? Well, 10 days out, I'd say that I think Nunn will win in Georgia outright, and Landrieu will pull out a win in the December 6th run-off in Louisiana. I can't bet on Udall in Colorado, as much as I'd like too, nor Pryor in Arkansas, nor Weiland in South Dakota. Shaheen will hold on to her seat in New Hampshire, and McConnell will hold on to his in Kentucky. And then, on top of all that, let's say Orman wins here in Kansas. That means, for whatever it's worth, that I'm imagining, come November 5th, the Republicans holding 50 seats in the Senate and the Democrats (with two Independents) holding 48, and looking forward to the run-off in Louisiana. The pressure on Orman to declare he'll caucus with the Republicans--whatever their party flunkies may say--and, by thus giving the Republicans 51 in their caucus, simply end the waiting over who will be in the majority will be immense. But by the same token, I could imagine the Democrats, assuming they similarly smell a Landrieu win awaiting them in a month's time, moving heaven and earth--perhaps Reid offering to step down as majority leader?--to capture Orman's vote, thus giving them a Biden-tie-breaking 50-50 breakdown in the Senate. Hey, it's possible.)

And now finally, incumbent Republican Governor Sam Brownback vs. Democrat state representative Paul Davis. It's really not looking good for our governor. Not in absolute terms, to be sure: on paper, Brownback still has all the advantages of incumbency, all the advantages of being the flag-bearer for the state Republican party, not to mention enjoying tremendous levels of support from dozens of conservative groups outside Kansas. But maybe you can have too much of a good thing; among other concerns, there is real reason to believe that some of the more outrageous ads flooding airwaves and filling mailboxes aren't so much reminding wavering Republicans of reasons to stick with their party as just increasing their dislike for the incumbent. The very latest polls show Davis leading by five points (and, perhaps even more crucially, shows Brownback as having the support of less than 40%  of female Kansas voters and only 77% of his own party). Some tracking polls suggest that Brownback still maintains a tiny lead over Davis, but others disagree. Either way, though, I can only reiterate what I wrote before: while this is still (as with both of the above races) the Republican incumbent's race to lose, it seems pretty clear that, if there is any place where your typical disappointed Kansas Republican voter is likely to switch their allegiance, it's going to be in choosing their next governor. I trust Sam Brownback has some back-up plans in mind for his post-governorship, because that is by no means a merely intellectual possibility any longer. 

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